Pullbox Reviews: Roku #1

Writer:  Cullen Bunn

Art:  Ramon F. Bachs

Colors:  Stephane Paitreau

Letters:  Dave Sharpe

Editor:  Lysa Hawkins

Publisher:  Valiant Entertainment

Price:  $3.99

Available:  October 30

Whirling and slicing her way from Valiant Entertainment this fall and winter (though this year, I apparently repeat myself) is Roku, a four-issue arc by Cullen Bunn and Ramon F. Bachs.  Once an MI-6 agent, Angelina Alcott is now Roku, a deadly assassin made all the more lethal by some additions and one very key subtraction: prehensile, razor-edged hair (think Medusa and Carnage’s spy-trained love-child) and invasive psychic powers, coupled with a distinct lack of a soul.  Oh, and she’s got all the sexy good looks of Mary Jane Watson in one of Black Widow’s catsuits.

If that doesn’t grab your attention, well, there’s not much I can do for you.

In issue one, we are introduced to Roku in media res:  she’s been hired to take down one of the leaders of the Jade Union, a Yakuza-style Chinese gang, in a Hong Kong night club.  It’s really just a set-up to show off Roku’s skills and powers—and let Bachs flex his artistic muscles a bit (turns out, he’s a fairly well-muscled individual).  The combat is graceful, brutal and smooth: a veritable ballet of blood.  Our protagonist is cold and professional in her work, a woman of very few words who quite enjoys her current employ.

We then progress to our tale du jour.  Back in New York, at the apparent headquarters of her contracting agent, Roku is now commissioned by her shadowy benefactors to acquire an ambiguously-defined “weapon device,” soon to be up for auction in Moscow.  And off our world-traipsing murderess goes…

If you’ve not read Cullen Bunn (The Damned, Cold Spots, The Sixth Gun, Harrow County, Metro and Bone Parish, as well as some slightly better-publicized books by that company owned by that company with the Mouse mascot), you really ought to.  Bunn writes some awesome supernatural horror, is strong with crime noir and is probably most at home with protagonists whose ethical centers are, let’s say, slightly left of the norm.  Roku draws on elements of all of these, adding a fun hi-tech spy feel to the mix.  As is his style, he leaves the reader with more questions than answers, especially here in this early stage (to be honest, I had to snag the character’s original name from the Amazon description of the upcoming trade collection of the series): we know only that Roku is an assassin/mercenary for hire, that she has some shadowy past that she might not even be fully aware of, and this “weapon” she’s hunting is coveted by no shortage of competing baddies…and might not be quite the device she was expecting.

All of which is as a good spy/assassin thriller ought to be.

But let’s be honest—it often doesn’t matter how well a comic is written or tightly its plot devised if the art doesn’t hold up its end; comics are before anything a visual medium.  Thankfully, Bunn needn’t worry.  Bachs’ linework and Paitreau’s colors more than satisfy.  Bachs’ treatment of Roku especially engages us with this character: she’s gorgeous, certainly, but presented with an intelligence and grace that demand your attention—you can’t not want to know more of this character.  Which is not to say that the supporting cast or the backgrounds get short shrift; everything is detailed and full, the style slick enough to suggest the fast movement of a world-traipsing spy story.  I know and see just enough to know I want to know and see a whole lot more. And, as is visible in the sample pages above, there’s some play with the panel construction itself, which adds to the visual interest.

Paitreau’s colors and Sharpe’s lettering are perfect accompaniments, as well.  Shadowed enough when there’s sneakery or foreshadowing afoot, strong enough to differentiate similarly-themed characters and provide them independent identities where they should have them, Paitreau employs a full palette throughout.  I especially like, again, Roku’s presentation—the choice of red hair for her works in a variety of ways, and the highlight/lowlight contrast of her primary weapon really adds to her grace.  Also, the use of subtle shading in the characters’ skin and clothing really make them pop out of the page.  Sharpe employs several effective devices in his lettering, differentiating thought from spoken word by highlighting the protagonist’s thoughts in red, and engaging sound effects into the art in several spots.  All in all, a gorgeous presentation.

Roku looks to be another great title from Valiant, and from Cullen Bunn: honestly, I’m already lamenting the fact that it’s only (currently, anyway) meant to be a four-issue arc.  Here’s to hoping that’s just this season’s entry, and that we’ve got more of this lethal redhead to look forward to!

My apologies to Valiant and to the Roku team on being a bit late to the table for this one; issue one launched October 30 and should be available on Comixology, via Amazon or at your local comic store now; issue two is already set for release November 20.

Score: 12 (of 13)

Preorder the TPB here

Review by Andy Patch, thePullbox.com

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